This Viewpoint extends the museum sites of the Connecticut Impressionist Art Trail - Connecticut's Millennium Legacy Trail - to the outdoor settings that artists portrayed at the turn of the 20th century in a manner that came to be called American Impressionism. Visit the website for the Connecticut Impressionist Art Trail to learn more about the Trail, the other Viewpoints, and the leading role that Connecticut played in the development of American Impressionism.
William Chadwick (1879-1962) was little more than a boy when he saw the vivid Impressionist landscapes that older American artists, notably Childe Hassam, Willard Metcalf, and Walter Griffin, were painting outdoors in places like Old Lyme, Connecticut. Inspired, he began adapting their bright colors and brushwork to the figures and interiors he had been doing. By the time he moved to Lyme year-round in 1915, after summering there from 1902, he was also painting the landscape, impressing fellow artists with his ability to capture its variety and spirit. Chadwick came so late to the Impressionist scene that widespread fame long eluded him. His sunny images and fine skills were not given their due until American Impressionism itself was rediscovered in the 1980s. His Lyme studio, filled with the things he used in his long career, can now be seen on the campus of the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme.
Rather than celebrate the majesty of the Connecticut River, as earlier artists had, American Impressionists tended to highlight the shoreline and did so in unconventional ways. Chadwick, who probably painted this scene a bit farther down river, created an intimate space that downplays breadth and depth. Foreground, rather than the traditional middle, is key here, and intimations of movement and life more important than an illusion of reality. American Impressionist art was optimistic, offering hope and emotional respite from societal changes as America moved into the 20th century. In Chadwick's painting, bright sunlight casts no shadow. The off-center focus and stippled brushwork focus the eye on the picture's surface, as do color patches that resonate with one another and with the animated lines of the trees. The blue river, filtered as through a screen, looks more flat than broad as it surrounds the golden tree, which insistently draws the eye upward, not into the distance. Nonetheless, the artist has designed the scene to look disarmingly natural. Nature here is not meant to awe but to please and to comfort.
William Chadwick and other painters who developed American Impressionism in Connecticut probably knew this place. The Chester-Hadlyme ferry has been in service since 1769, when long poles pushed the boat across the river until a steam-powered barge was introduce in 1879. The Connecticut Transportation Department took charge in 1917 and has employed a motor-driven vessel since 1949. In 1917, too, a huge construction project was underway on the hill above. William Gillette, a famous Connecticut actor whose portrayals of Sherlock Holmes continue to affect the way we view the fictional detective, was building his dream house, an elaborate and imaginative "castle." Acquired in 1943 by the State Park and Forest Commission, the actor's home and its extensive grounds are open to the public. Gillette's collection of American Impressionist paintings, as well as amazing domestic conveniences of his own devising, remain in the house. The park, a place for picnicking and relaxing, offers a view like those dear to American Impressionists in the early 20th century. The Department of Environmental Protection and organizations like the Nature Conservancy and local land trusts have recognized the great scenic and environmental importance of the Connecticut River estuary and have made significant progress in preserving this area for future generations.
The Connecticut Impressionist Art Trail Viewpoints have been made possible by funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, the Connecticut Office of Tourism and the Connecticut Tourism Council, and the Connecticut Impressionist Art Trail museums, with the support of the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, the National Assembly of States Arts Agencies, and the Connecticut State Parks. A project of Arts Projects on Millennium Trails.